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Science’s obsession: The search for a “smart pill”

Startled awake by the ringing of a telephone while lying in a bed in the French Quarter, a block from Bourbon Street, I found myself momentarily forgetting where I was and why I was there. Too many meetings, too many scientists. Reaching for the phone, I remembered: New Orleans. The twenty-second annual Neuropharma­cology Conference — this year’s theme, “Cognitive Enhancers.” All the top “smart-pill” researchers would be there.

“This is your wakeup call,” said the automated voice on the phone.

I hung it up, lay back down, and shut my eyes. For just a moment. And then I dreamed that my head, the top of it, was expanding, like bread in an oven. My forehead grew to about twice its normal size. Just as it cracked open with a hideous noise, I saw my brains begin to bubble out.

That’s when I woke back up for the meeting.

 * * *

 “Why do we need cognitive enhancers?”

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